Posted by: Andrew | January 26, 2010

Teaching and Technology: First Pillar of Wisdom

“Fancy technology will not turn a bad teacher into a good teacher”.

What makes a good teacher?  The teaching technique is only part of what makes a good teacher.  More important (to my mind) are the attitudes of the teacher towards the students and towards the subject being taught.

Enthusiasm for the subject

How are you going to inspire a class of students if you don’t show enthusiasm for what you are teaching?  I do try to be honest with my student as to which parts of the course I find especially interesting, but you need to show boundless joy and delight in whatever you are teaching.  It will rub off on the student.  My opening lines for my introductory course (Physics 115: Physics and the Universe) are “And in this course we are going to learn what makes the universe work.  How cool is that?”.

Caring for the Students

Treat the students with respect.  The job of the teacher is to foster a love of learning, an enthusiasm for the subject, and a willingness to challenge the students to perform beyond their own expectations.  You always need to respond to individual requests for assistance and guidance. I also find that honesty with the students is really the best policy.  The worst job I have is gently telling a student that they are not going to pass the course this time round and should withdraw.  I always believe that under different circumstances everyone could pass, and I always tell them that.

Making it Relevant

Find out what your students are interested in. What careers do they aspire to?  What are their outside interests?  What are their family backgrounds?  If this sounds a bit nosy, then consider that when discussing things in class, you should try to relate the subject to something of relevance to the class; this will help keep their attention.

Delivering it in an Interesting and Stimulating Manner

This covers preparation of class materials as well as your tone of voice, body language and general attitude when you deliver it. The average attention span is 10-15 minutes at best.  You have to mix it up a little and change the tempo of the class and the topic or task regularly.

Keep Order in the Classroom

Remember, it is YOUR classroom.  You are the teacher and you have to show some leadership.  The democratic process has some relevance in the classroom, but ultimately, it is your professional judgement and experience which counts. You DO know more than the students. It is an awesome responsibility.  In my classes, when I am talking, then I expect students to be listening, not talking to neighbours.  I will ask people to be quiet.  I will even single them out (gasp!). I ask them not to disturb the rest of the class.  Peer pressure is a wonderful thing. I have never had a complaint from a student about these tactics. Usually, feedback includes positive comments from other students about the good learning environment.

And Finally

All of these things can be done without resorting to any technology at all.  It is perfectly possible to be a great teacher without using any technology, not even a chalkboard.  I use it because I find that I can reach more students, with more relevant information and deliver it in a more stimulating fashion (I hope!) if I do.

Suggested Further Reading

“The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors”, Peter G. Filene, University of North Carolina Press (2005), ISBN-13: 978-0807856031

“What the Best College Teachers Do”, Ken Bain, Harvard University Press (2004), ISBN-13: 978-0674013254

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